Hartford will be fashion forward on Oct. 19 when AIDS Connecticut (ACT) hosts it first “WE CAN (Women End the Course of AIDS Now), An Evening With Guerra” at New Country Motor Cars in Hartford. The runway competition will feature Guerra, who was the winner of the popular “Project Runway All Stars” competition and who was also one of the featured designers on Season 8 of the Lifetime show. HIV-positive, Guerra has been an outspoken advocate of AIDS awareness, and will emcee and serve as one of the judges at the event intended to heighten awareness about women’s involvement in the HIV/AIDS crisis. Still a huge “Project Runway” fan and a designer with his own clothing line, Guerra was fresh off the beach when he Spilled the Beans with Java.
Q: What are you wearing?
A: I just got dressed. Me and my boyfriend went out to our beach house this past weekend. I am addicted to being on the water and in our boat now. I have a really good tan so that’s the first thing I am wearing. I am also wearing a herringbone tank shirt and a red and white striped bathing suit.
Q: What has been the biggest change in your life since the exposure on “Project Runway?”
A: I have two answers. One is that I am able to pick my own projects now and can say “no,” whereas before I always had to say “yes.” The design project and the nonprofit work I have been doing since the show have been really great. Coming off the show I now have an understanding of who I am as an individual and what I am able to accomplish. That was a huge change.
Q: Was the “Project Runway” experience as exciting as it looked? I love watching that show!
A: Viewers don’t see that we are only getting four or five hours of sleep a night. And you are not seeing us getting mic’d up before we even get out of bed. You don’t see us travel in packs together. It is all pretty miserable and very exhausting. I did the math the other day. We are working 18 hours a day for six weeks straight. It’s intense if you don’t get eliminated and go home.
Q: It is so noteworthy that you parlayed your status as a celebrity to become such an AIDS awareness advocate. You were so candid in announcing your own experience with the disease on “Project Runway.” How are you feeling?
A: I do feel it was all meant to be, that this journey had been written for me. When I was young I was an inside kid, always inside, coloring or cutting paper, not very happy. But I knew being in that room was going to lead to something better. When I learned I was HIV positive, I thought my life was over and it defined me. I let go of my dreams and goals as artist and life was so difficult. After I nearly died, I decided I could not allow the disease to win and I auditioned for the show. For so many years of my life I was so afraid to talk about my disease, but when I finally did, I was relieved. And then it was important to me to continue the conversation. My mother said I should take my experience and apply it to a greater cause.
Q: And that brings us to Hartford, where you will be hosting “WE CAN,” the Insurance City version of “Project Runway.” Can Hartford bring it in terms of fashion?
A: To tell you the truth, I don’t know. AIDS Connecticut reached out to me and the cause is important for me. When there are design opportunities it is easy to say “no.” But when it is for the cause, I always have to say “yes.” I haven’t been to Connecticut and the wonderful thing is I know the PEZ factory is there and I want to visit that.
Q: If you could only work with three colors, what would they be?
A: Black, white and fuchsia.
Q: Other than your own, whose Project runway designs have you admired?
A: Joe Segal from Season 11. He was from Rhode Island and I thought he was amazing. I was on the casting panel for the season and I asked the other judges “Where had this guy been?” He blew my socks off. I also liked Kit Scarbo from Season 4 and Seth Aaron from Season 7.
Q: What in your opinion is the biggest fashion mistake women make?
A: Wearing pajama bottoms out as clothes. Don’t wear them.
Q: What is something no one knows about you?
A: Oh, geez. I still have my baby blanket, Abigail, and it used to be yellow and white and now is dingy gray and taupe. And I am a pretty good cook. If I weren’t doing fashion I would probably go to culinary school.
Q: Did the show change the way you design?
A: I am trying to stay true to my heart. I think my last collection, “Haute Dogs,” did that for me, although my partner asked me if I thought of ever doing something more grown up than that, which made me laugh.
Q: What can we look forward to for fall, as far as your collection?
A: I am actually doing a small run of some very exclusive stuff for men and women. Some black and white, some color blocking. It will be sold directly to consumers through my website, mondoguerra.com. It is important to me to go direct to the consumer. I want to get rid of the middle man. My customers are so supportive I don’t want them to have to pay any more than they have to, and I am my own best presenter.
Reach MaryEllen Fillo at firstname.lastname@example.org.